Employee burnout is a significant problem which affects up to half of VA providers and staff. Burnout has been associated with a wide range of negative individual and work-related outcomes, and negatively impacts patient care. The available evidence in support of therapy animals and their effect on employee morale is promising, and indicates that such arrangements effectively reduce employee stress, improve affect, promote overall health, reduce absenteeism, and positively effect productivity levels, quality of work, morale, and job satisfaction. Despite the highly promising application of therapy animals as a way to improve employee morale and well-being, studies examining the impacts of having therapy animals in work settings are sparse, and research focused on offering this type of program in a health care setting is lacking.
The overall objective of this pilot study is to evaluate the use of an animal therapy program to improve well-being among VA health care providers and staff from a local VA Women's Health clinic, allowing us to examine the process and preliminary outcomes associated with the program across a range of clinical and non-clinical disciplines. Specific Aims are to: (1) Assess the feasibility of developing and integrating an animal therapy program in a VA health care setting; (2) Examine the acceptability of offering an animal therapy program for VA providers and staff; (3) Gather preliminary data about the potential effectiveness and economic impacts of the animal therapy program on provider and staff employment-related outcomes to inform the development of a larger trial.
Eligible participants will comprise the providers and staff working in the local VA Women's Health Clinic. Before implementing the animal therapy program, we will field a survey with these employees to gather information needed to refine and finalize the logistics of the program and collect baseline data on employee outcomes (burnout, stress, turnover intention, helping behavior). The exact frequency (number of times per week/month) and duration (number of hours of each session and overall number of months the program will run) will be determined based on preferences of the Women's health clinic leadership, providers, and staff (as reported in the pre-implementation survey). Feasibility, acceptability and cost data will be assessed via semi-structured interviews with employees and dog handlers who facilitated the program, and post-implementation surveys; post-implementation surveys will also include post-program measures of employee outcomes.
We have no findings to report at this time.
Despite the promising potential of animal therapy programs to improve employee well-being, to our knowledge, this type of program has never been offered to VA healthcare team members (either clinical or non-clinical) and no research on the topic has been conducted. If this study finds that an animal therapy program is feasible and acceptable to VA employees, it will provide a novel and innovative approach to address a top priority of the VA - bolstering employee wellness and reducing burnout.
- Etingen B, Martinez RN, Smith BM, Hogan TP, Miller L, Saban KL, Irvin D, Jankowski B, Weaver FM. Developing an animal-assisted support program for healthcare employees. BMC health services research. 2020 Aug 3; 20(1):714.